Contemporary Dandies

The figure of the dandy provides an abundance of material for the subversive and frequently ironic interventions that have come to be associated with British cultural production. Throughout the twentieth century, periods of acute social upheaval have witnessed parallel and intense bursts of dandy behavior. Masculine consumption, and the relationship of material goods to class and status, have played an important role for social and cultural arrivistes from Noel Coward and Cecil Beaton in the 1920s and 1930s to the publisher Tyler Brûlé and the designer Ozwald Boateng in the 1990s. "And," as writer George Walden suggests, "English sensitivities are acutely alive to anything to do with social nuance, whether accent, posture, conduct or clothes" (Walden, p. 29).

The desires of Regency dandyism were amply catered for by a plethora of specialist boutiques that had grown up in and around the streets of London's Mayfair and Piccadilly. The tailors; breeches, boot, and glove makers; milliners; and perfumiers that vied to tend to the immaculate bodies of their dandy customers were sandwiched between numerous specialists catering to the refined tastes of their client's stomach, interior décor, and cultural entertainment and welfare. The consumerism of the Regency dandy makes him a particularly analogous figure to the contemporary British dandies of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Moving beyond the golden triangle to Carnaby Street in the 1960s, and latterly Islington, Spitalfields, and Hoxton Square, the sites of dandy consumption are, for the most part, reassuringly familiar—small, select boutiques, elite tailors, exquisite restaurants and bars, exclusive members clubs, artisan publishers, and celebrity delicatessens still dominate the dandy landscape.

In the twenty-first century, the steady spread of globalization, of branded culture, is once again providing fertile ground for the emergence of the contemporary dandy. The figure of the dandy presents a sartorial and behavioral precedent that allows for the celebration of beauty in material culture while cultivating an aura of superiority to it, and the early twenty-first century has seen a resurgence of interest in the traditional purveyors of material status. London's Savile Row is increasingly populated by filmmakers, recording artists, visual artists, and designers, joining the existing ranks of the traditional British gentleman who is these tailors' staple client. At the same time, brands such as Burberry, Aquascutum, and Pringle, who have traded for decades on their status as suppliers of quality and standing, have seen their customer profile alter to include an international audience in search of distinction as well as a more specific sartorial subculture closer to home—the Terrace Casual.

The early 1980s Casual project was vehemently patriotic. Forays into Europe in the early 1980s showed Britain's football fans in stark contrast to their Italian and French counterparts whose immaculate dress prompted a revolution in British working-class style that saw the football fan become the principle consumer of mostly European luxury sporting brands. Today's Terrace Casual springs from similar terrain. What separates him from his forebears is that the garments he favors are principally British, the upper-class sporting pursuits which with they are associated redolent of the masculine camaraderie and corporeal engagement of club life favored by Brum-mell and his circle. As with Brummell, the Terrace Casual style is engaged in the positioning of traditional upper-class "country" style in the urban environment, co-opting it for the pursuit of leisure rather than the management of rural estates. While adopting the trappings of aristocracy disrupts perceived social status, it acts as a celebration rather than rejection of all the mores and moralities that these garments imply.

Oscar Wilde once said, "One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art," and Hoxton style is the ultimate expression of the "music/fashion/art" triumvirate that characterizes British street style in the twenty-first century. As Christopher Breward writes, "D'Aurevilly's dandy incorporated a spirit of aggressively bohemian individualism that first inspired Charles Baudelaire and then Joris-Karl Huysmans in their poetic celebrations of a sublime artificiality It is possible to see this trajectory leading forward through the decadent work of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde to inform . . . . twentieth century notions of existential 'cool'" (Breward 2003 p. 3). While Wilde's bohemian decadence runs like a seam through the Bloomsbury set; the glam-rock outrage and rebelliousness of Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie; the performativity of Leigh Bowery and Boy George; and the embodiment of life as art in Quentin Crisp, it is the Hoxton Dandy, as epitomized by the singer Jarvis Cocker, who presents an equally subversive con temporary figure. Originality is as crucial for the Hoxton Dandy as it was for Brummell and Hoxton Square, once a bleak, principally industrial quarter of East London, now at the heart of a trajectory of British bohemi-anism that began in Soho in Brummell's time. Hoxton has quickly become a hub of new media/ graphic/furniture/ fashion design style that embraces its gritty urban history of manufacturing. Artisan clothing has often drawn upon dress types more usually associated with the workingman in order to emphasize the masculinity of artistic pursuit, the physical labor involved in its production. This is no less true of the Hoxton style, which is rooted in a flamboyant urban camouflage—a mix of military iconography, "peasant" staples, and industrial work wear, made from high-performance fabrics whose functionality always far outweighs their purpose.

In his time, the modernity of Brummell's monochromatic style marked him out in opposition to more decadent European fashion and made him a hero to writers such as Baudelaire. Modernism in the twentieth century continued to struggle to establish itself as a positive choice in British design culture, yet the periods of flirtation with clean lines and somber formality were intense and passionate, a momentary reprieve from the ludic sensibilities British designers more commonly entertained. The early British Modernists of the 1950s sought to emulate the socially mobile elements of American society. Stylistically, they drew inspiration from the sleek, sharp, and minimal suit favored by the avant-garde musicians of the East Coast jazz movement. Philosophically, early mods saw themselves as "citizens of the world" (Polhe-mus 1994 p. 51), a world in which it only mattered where you were going, not from where you came. In 2003 clean lines and muted colors once more afforded relief from the riot and parody of postmodernism that had dominated British fashion since the emergence of Vivienne Westwood and, latterly, John Galliano. The Neo-Mod-ernist style draws, as it did in Brummell's day, on established sartorial traditions but subverts them through materials (denim for suits, shirting fabrics for linings), form (tighter, sharper, and leaner than the norm) and, ultimately, function.

Brummell was, in fact, almost puritanical in his approach to style. Max Beerbohm wrote in the mid-twentieth century of "'the utter simplicity of [Brummell's] attire' and 'his fine scorn for accessories,' " which has led contemporary commentators such as Walden to note that "Brummell's idea of sartorial elegance, never showy, became increasingly conservative and restrained" (Walden, p. 28). Aesthetically, British gentlemanly style is the closest to Brummellian dandyism. As in previous centuries, the gentleman is defined by class and by his relationship to property (rural and urban). This easy, natural association reflects the apparent effortlessness of dress, manners, and social standing. Gentlemanly dress is loaded with expressive, but never ostentatious, clues; as Brummell suggested, "If [the common man] should turn . . . to look at you, you are not too well dressed; but neither too stiff, too tight or too fashionable." Brummell's refusal of finery for a more practical costume can be seen in the contemporary confinement of his own style of cravat, frock coat, and highly polished boots to special-occasion wear. In this, the early twenty-first-century gentlemanly uniform of gray or navy suit, black lace-up shoe, white shirt, and modestly colorful tie more than nods to Brummell's stylistic approach.

See also Benjamin, Walter; Brummell, George (Beau); Europe and America: History of Dress (400-1900 C.E.); Fashion, Historical Studies of; Fashion and Identity; Wilde, Oscar.

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